Lifestyle of both parents during pregnancy affects growth curve of girls during first year of life

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Researcher Vicką Versele (VUB-KU Leuven) focuses with the TRANSPARENTS research project on the changes in body composition and lifestyle in couples having their first child. Her recent study - published in the international journal Pediatric Obesity - now shows that the lifestyle of mom and dad at the beginning of pregnancy has an impact on the weight curve during the first year of life for girls, but not for boys.

Vicką Versele analyzed the body composition, physical activity and sitting behavior of 114 couples at the beginning of pregnancy. In addition, she looked at the weight evolution of mom during pregnancy and the growth curves of their first child from birth. " Our focus on the influence of moms and dads on their baby’s weight is unique," Versele said. "We know that the mom’s lifestyle has an impact on the baby. However, most studies focus on women and pay little attention to the impact of the dad.

The study reveals surprising connections:

  • Daughters of dads in the group with the highest sitting behavior have a higher weight curve than daughters of dads who exhibit less daily sitting behavior.
  • When the mom gains more weight during pregnancy , the weight curve of their daughters is higher during the first year of life.
  • When mothers exercise more at the end of the first trimester of pregnancy, their daughters have a lower weight curve during the first year of life.
  • No associations were found between parental characteristics and the boys’ weight curves, nor for the height curves of all infants.

"Weight, like height, gives an indication of children’s health. We now know that the lifestyle of both parents has an impact on the weight curve of girls during the first year of life. A higher weight curve could potentially result in a higher risk of developing overweight or obesity in later life. The explanations for the results are still guesswork. "Possibly there is an epigenetic influence, meaning that environmental factors and the lifestyle of the parents influence the expression of genes. We know from research that what dads eat and how much they exercise can change the epigenome of the sperm cell, for example."

To prevent an unhealthy lifestyle from being passed down through generations, health interventions are best focused on both parents. "The results emphasize the need for health interventions that focus on more physical activity and less sedentary behavior that also involve dads," says Versele. "Reaching both parents with health programs is crucial, especially considering that dads can also encourage their partners to exercise more."

Health interventions are also best started early in pregnancy and ideally before conception.

ABOUT TRANSPARENCIES

TRANSPARENTS is a study of changes in body composition and lifestyle in couples having their first child, from preconception to one year postpartum. The study contributes to a better understanding of the life stage of having a first child. An understanding of this critical period when people are at risk of gaining weight or exhibiting unhealthy changes in energy balance related behaviors may help in the development of programs and the prevention of negative lifestyle changes.

TRANSPARENTS consists of a team of researchers from VUB (research group MOVE) and KU Leuven (research group REALIFE).

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